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Philippa Martyr: Hope’s easy when you think about it

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A woman prays in a Catholic Church. Helping build communities of prayer inspired by faith is a central goal of the new Archdiocesan Mission Plan Go Make Disciples. Photo: CNS, Martin Villar, Reuters

If hope is the best cure for hanging on to the church by your fingernails, then how can you help it to grow?

Start by asking God for it. Hope is one of the three theological virtues. The other two are faith and charity, or love.

Asking God for one of these usually brings the other two along for the ride (think of it as a spiritual group discount). But you can also use your human gifts to receive hope and help it to thrive.

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Hope looks to your future but draws on your past. It grows best in the seedbed of a human memory full of the good things God has done for you.

Stress, anxiety, and depression can all give a person short-term memory loss. It’s very easy to forget the good things and struggle to think of anything positive.

So hope is a very “cognitive” virtue. It’s not about trying to feel hopeful—you can also use the brain God gave you to recall your blessings.

The Bible is the book of memories of the ongoing love affair between God and his people, so that we never forget our great romance. We can draw on those memories in bad times to build hope.

God has showered thousands of acts of love and blessing on you from your birth. If you can only remember the bad things, then let’s start with a big reframe.

God owes you nothing. Just hold that thought. Now let’s look at your life again. God has showered food and drink and clothing on you, day in and day out. You have been a lily in his field.

It might have been tough at times, and the food might not have been your favourite, and maybe the clothes were second-hand. But there you were: clothed and fed.

Your family may have been horrible, and your home scary. But you survived it and have made a decent fist of your life.

God has protected you all this time. He gave you escape hatches and opportunities and allies.

You might be struggling with addictions or compulsions or disabilities. But you’re still alive, which means that God loves you and wants you to keep trying to overcome them.

If he really wanted you to go to hell, he could have ended your life at a time when you were in mortal sin and openly rejecting him. But he didn’t—and here you are, reading my column in The Catholic Weekly.

Remember that time when you did something wrong, but fixed it before anyone found out?

Remember when you prayed for a special thing to happen and it did?

Remember when you went in to work not knowing if you’d still have a job or not, and it was all okay?

Remember that near-miss car accident? That picnic when you really wanted fine weather, and you got it?

Remember that truly awful person you almost married, but didn’t? Or when God let you feel the law of consequences and “unanswered prayers”—and you realise now that he saved you from something worse?

Remember your hot shower this morning? Your breakfast? Your clean water supply? Your carer? Your spouse? That stranger who made your coffee for you, so you didn’t have to?

This is before we even begin to talk about a God who loves you so much that he got you baptised as soon as he could, and offered you his own body and blood to eat, and a way out of your sins and addictions through confession.

Memory also gives you perspective. The church has survived the most terrible things, and will continue to survive them.

Brutal Roman persecutions? Arianism? The Black Death? Multiple popes? The Borgias? The Reformation? The French Revolution? World War II? Genocide? Communism? And yet here we are, at 1.3 billion and counting.

Seminaries in developing countries are bursting. Adult converts are flooding into the church. You can buy 41 different kinds of rosary beads at Westminster Abbey’s gift shop.

God is so occupied with caring for you—and the church you worry about so much–it’s amazing he has time to do anything else.

This is how hope grows. It will protect you from useless anxiety, and give you strong wings.

It lights candles, warms hearts, and kicks backsides. It is a virtue well worth acquiring.

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